The Proteas produced their best performance since readmission, and their epic victory at the Kennington Oval is historic and dramatic. Beating the number one ranked team in the world with an innings and 12 runs has “remarkable” and “brilliant” written all over it. This comes close to being the finest hour in South African cricket.
History tends to repeat itself. The place: Kennington Oval. The date: 4 – 8 September 2003. The occasion: fifth test between the Proteas and England. The Proteas posted a sizable first innings score of 484. Herschelle Gibbs contributed a brilliant 183 and Gary Kirsten, 90. They shared a partnership of 227 for the second wicket. At one stage the Proteas had 345/2. A minor collapse limited the Proteas to 484. England answered with 604/9 with Marcus Trescothick posting a spirited double century (219), Graham Thorpe, 124 and Andrew Flintoff, 95. The Proteas fell apart in the second innings and were bowled out for 229. England reached the required 110 with one casualty, Michael Vaughan, and won the test with nine wickets.
Compare that test to the first test of the current series and see the similarities.
Over the last 5 days the Proteas buried many English fairy tales or reduced it to popular but nevertheless unsubstantiated folklore. Amongst others, word of mouth claimed that England is the best balanced team in the world; England is the best team in the world; England’s batters are better than those of the Proteas; England’s bowlers are by far better than their South African opponents; Graeme Smith cannot bat outside his off-stump; Kallis will succumb to the first bouncer; and Hashim Amla is a walking LBW-victim.
Yes, the English said AB cannot bat against spin; JP Duminy cannot hold the bat and Jacques Rudolph – well Rudolph was so inconsequential that the English did not even bother to mention him.
The Proteas never got around exposing the English gossip and alleged fact-based knowledge about the South African middle and lower order because they were not needed. Alviro Petersen fell for a duck, but after that it was a three man show: Graeme Smith (131), Amla (311*) and Kallis (184*).
The South Africans arrived in England amongst speculations that they were about to come face to face with their bowling nemesis. The Proteas responded to the threat in a manner never witnessed before. They systematically took the English bowlers apart and finally belittled and disgraced them.
The world’s “best” spinner, Graeme Swann, bowled 52 overs, on a spinning wicket, for 151 runs and no wicket! The world’s “best” swing bowler, James Anderson, bowled 41 overs, bagging 1 wicket for 116. Stuart Broad, built up by the English press as the world’s “best” quick bowler posted figures of 34-6-118-0. Tim Bresnan, part of the best bowling attack in the world posted figures of 37-2-140-1.
Words cannot describe Hashim Amla and his majestic 311*, the best by a South African ever. He carried his bat for the entire innings and spent more than 13 hours out there. I lack words to describe what this brilliant batsman achieved and what he did for cricket and all South Africans. On this matter I leave you with the words of Firdose Moonda who wrote “The silent triumph of Hashim Amla: He has long been an icon in South African cricket and now Hashim Amla has touched new territory for the country and secured a place in history.”
Hate him or love him and there seems no in between for Graeme Smith but whilst you loathe him at least acknowledge that he is a phenomenon: a great leader of men as Michael Atherton put it.
Michael Vaughan said on the BBC: “He’s a terrific captain. To have taken the job so young and to still be doing it now is quite an effort. It’s a huge achievement because it’s not just about captaining a cricket team in South Africa, you’re also a political leader. The pressure that he would have been under off the field would have been massive. He’s a great leader with the bat. That’s his main strength, he goes out and leads from the front.”
The assumption that Kallis could not bat in England was probably the result of an encounter with Andrew Flintoff who probably bowled the best spell of his test career to the best cricketer of all times.
During the previous tour and after being roughed up by Freddie the English press insisted Kallis was a has-been with rapid deteriorating eyesight and reflections. When Kallis scored his remarkable century at the Oval he pointed to his eyes; thus acknowledging his friend Mark Boucher and probably also mocking the England cricket fraternity for prematurely writing him of in 2008.
I have done many posts indicating that Kallis is not only the best cricketer of all times but also the best batter. Prior to the current tour to England Kallis had one weak point: batting on English wickets. Finally he rectified that and in one innings he improved his average in England from 29 to 38.4. Kallis bowled brilliantly at the Oval and his batting was sublime. If anything he looks better and better as time passes.
The South African dominance at the Oval came as a surprise but not the victory. Four of the Protea’s six batters are amongst the best in the world. Kallis’ career average is almost 58 whilst Smith and Amla average more than 50. AB de Villiers has a career average of 49.16. No one in his or hers right mind will argue that no country offers a better bowling attack than Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Vernon Philander and Kallis.
England has serious problems and after failing with the bat and seeing his bowlers being taken apart, the pressure on Andrew Strauss must be immense. At times during the Oval-test he looked down and out and almost desperate. The English will have to play Matt Prior at six and sacrifice Ravi Bopara for another bowler. Tim Bresnan has nothing to offer with the ball and should be replaced by either Steven Finn or Graham Onions. If England picks an extra bowler Finn and Onions might both play, but that would leave them with a problem they did not have to content with for some time: a long tail.
Being one up in a three test series is critical and from here on the Proteas controls the proceedings. England is good but demoralised and if the Proteas lose the initiative they will only have themselves to blame. There is no need to change the team; although AB will be first to admit that he looked out of sorts with the gloves. The Oval was not the easiest place to keep and it is highly unlikely that AB will be confronted with a more difficult pitch in the remaining tests. Somewhere along the line JP Duminy will be needed with the bat and hopefully Gary Kirsten will leave the team as it is.